UNITED NATIONS, NOV. 28 -- The U.N. Security Council tonight sidetracked a potentially divisive debate about Palestinian rights and cleared the way for a meeting Thursday in which foreign ministers of the 15 member states are expected to approve a resolution that would allow use of military force against Iraq if it refuses to withdraw from Kuwait.

After a day of closed-door debate by the council, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its supporters were unable to muster the backing necessary to force the council to vote on a resolution about protection of Palestinian rights under Israeli occupation before it deals with the military force resolution.

Another potential problem for U.S. hopes for passage of the resolution directed at Iraq arose today when Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen said before leaving Beijing for the United Nations that his government might not vote for it. As one of the council's five permanent members, China has the power to veto the resolution, but U.S. officials and diplomatic sources here said they expect it will at least abstain and might even vote for the resolution.

{Secretary of State James A. Baker III met Qian early Thursday after the Chinese official arrived in New York, news services reported, but the two men declined to discuss the session, which was believed to be a final discussion of the vote.}

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the manager of former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali said Iraq has agreed to let 14 American hostages go with Ali when he ends a visit on Saturday. "The suggested number is 14, but we don't know who they are," manager Ali Jaber told reporters, according to Reuter.

Seventy Italians left Iraq today and 30 Belgians and five Canadians were told they would be released.

Cuba and Yemen, two of the countries that introduced the resolution here on behalf of the PLO, had threatened to seek a procedural vote demanding a showdown on which resolution would be considered first. They did not, however, and action on the Palestinian resolution was put off until later, probably in December when Yemen succeeds the United States as chairman of the Security Council.

Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca met Baker for 1 1/2 hours tonight and said afterwards that his country would not support the resolution sought by the United States. "The text that we have before us is not acceptable," he declared.

There was speculation here that Cuba still might attempt to raise the PLO issue Thursday, but that appeared unlikely following the backdown by the PLO's supporters.

The resolution sought by the PLO calls for convening an international meeting in Geneva to discuss treatment of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It would inject a U.N. presence into the West Bank and Gaza Strip by appointing a commissioner to monitor the situation of Palestinian residents.

The United States wants to postpone action on the contentious Palestinian resolution until after the foreign ministers meet. It fears a public debate and vote on that issue would distract world attention from the effort to put Saddam on notice that he faces a threat of war if he does not withdraw from Kuwait.

In Baghdad, Saddam said today that the Security Council should adopt a suggestion he made Aug. 12, shortly after he seized Kuwait, and seek a solution to all Middle East problems at the same time, Reuter reported. Saddam accused the council of double standards, citing Israel's refusal to implement any U.N. resolutions on the Palestinian problem, and he said the United States and its Western allies had failed to press Israel to comply.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yassin Ramadan, one of Saddam's closest aides, urged at a press conference in Baghdad that President Bush enter into a "dialogue" with Saddam -- a suggestion the White House rejected.

Ramadan said that Bush, "who is leading the whole world toward a devastating, destructive war, has no other choice but to return to reason and enter into a dialogue to avoid the catastrophes of war in the region," Washington Post correspondent Nora Boustany reported from Amman, Jordan.

Ramadan, usually chosen to present Iraq's hard-line positions, said, "Bush must accept a dialogue to reach a global and durable peace in the gulf and the Middle East and a solution to all the problems of the region."

But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, "We are not going to approve his aggression by rewarding him with some kind of unilateral negotiations."

China's Qian, speaking in Beijing as he was leaving for New York, said U.S. press reports that China would vote for the military force resolution were "groundless," Washington Post correspondent Lena Sun reported.

Asked if his remarks meant China would not vote for the resolution, Qian said, "I think so." But when asked whether China would use its veto, he replied, "I have not said so." Pressed on whether China will abstain, he said, "I think you will know after I vote."

Sources here said Qian's comments were too vague and cryptic to be taken as a reliable gauge of China's intentions. They said that unless there has been a major, unexpected shift in Beijing's position, all indications here are that China will not block the resolution and is leaning toward voting for it.

Qian will travel to Washington on Friday for talks with Baker, making him the highest-ranking Chinese official received in Washington since the army crackdown in June 1989 on China's democracy movement. There has been considerable speculation that if China votes for the resolution on use of force, Qian will be received by Bush while in Washington.

Baker, who will preside over the Security Council meeting, met for more than two hours tonight with Soviet Foreign Minister Edward Shevardnadze, and they announced that they will meet again in Houston on Dec. 10 and 11 and then fly to Washington to confer with Bush on Dec. 12 about a meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at some future point.

Shevardnadze said passage of the military force resolution "does not mean that we are going to war. We must still do everything possible and have very serious discussions about finding a peaceful resolution to this crisis."

Asked whether either of the two ministers might go to Baghdad or send a high-level envoy to make a last plea to the Iraqis, Baker said, "If we were, I don't think we'd be out here talking about it. I'm not going to comment about every bit of speculation that comes up."

Shevardnadze added, "At this time I do not see any need for that." He noted that Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had been in Moscow only two days ago. "What we intended to say to him, we did say," he said.